Monday, March 3, 2014

Republicans Warn Exodus If Graduated Tax or Any Increase…Really?

Rep. David McSweeney
A “Fair Tax” Amendment:  Republicans Warn Exodus!

When I last sat down and crunched numbers for the impact of a possible amendment in Illinois to call for a graduated tax system (design to be determined after passage by the General Assembly), my initial findings were of significant relief for those making the least and lesser relief for those working families in Illinois earning more than the median annual wage.   In fact, the break-even point seemed to occur somewhere just before $122,000. 

My anticipated savings were based upon a promotional endorsement of the two bills (SJRCA 40  &  HJRCA 33) by A Better Illinois, in which the organization offered a modest model from another state. 

Shortly thereafter, I received a bulletin from Representative David McSweeney (R - 52nd District) that warned “families with incomes above $7,000 will see increases in taxes in 2015 (if a graduated tax is implemented).

Yikes!  Above $7000?  Obviously clueless crunching on my part? 

I decided to ask the Representative how he got those numbers.  I’ve read your numbers with some concern…“I ’d like to understand the dangers a graduated tax system would present the middle class in Illinois; would you flesh out some of these numbers for me?”

Representative McSweeney replied again: “I am against the graduated income tax primarily because higher tax rates are known to be job-destroying and punish families and small businesses.  Approximately 75% of all businesses, and a much higher proportion of small businesses, file income taxes on an individual basis.  The tax increase would be damaging to the entities that create the most new jobs.”

I toyed with the idea of asking once again to have the Representative provide some substantiation for these numbers.  I thought “flesh” out was colloquially enough to get an answer, not another talking point.

Try West Virginia for even better perks!
But, if I did ask for some clarity, I knew I might get more of these knee-jerk phrases:  Loss of jobs, we’ll lose our business-friendly standing more, destroys initiative and desire for success, would hurt the lower classes even more, or might even add to an already rampant democratic corruption, businesses will run away

Looking at New Jersey some ten years ago, might give us some answers as to what actually happens after a decade of increased tax implementation.  And it was a perfect storm, one where New York’s expiring tax increases were juxtaposed with New Jersey’s sudden increase. 

“In a new law approved on June 28, 2004, New Jersey increased its top income tax rate for tax years beginning on and after January 1, 2004, from 6.37% on the portion of taxable income above $75,000 for single individuals and $150,000 for married couples to 8.97% on the portion of taxable income above $500,000 regardless of filing status. This represents a significant shift in the traditional relationship between the top income tax rates in New York and New Jersey. For the first time in history, the top New Jersey rates are now substantially higher than the top New York rates. New York State’s temporary top rate of 7.7% on taxpayers with taxable incomes of $500,000 or more is schedule expired on December 31, 2005. New York’s current top income tax rate is 6.85% for married taxpayers with taxable incomes above $40,000 and single taxpayers with incomes above $20,000. The 6.85% top rate is more than 55% lower than the state’s top income tax rate in 1974.

Republican economists and conservative think-tanks denounced the expected population shifts of wealthy from New Jersey to New York, the dreaded loss of businesses to the neighboring state, the unfair burden on those who earned more: sound familiar?

And, they warned, those with money and ability can and will move away if they feel threatened…and any taxes menace competition and profit…

But careful long-term studies of the cumulative effects of increased taxes in the New Jersey/New York scenario, point to a much different outcome.  “Researchers from Princeton and Stanford universities looked carefully at the data and found that migration from New Jersey that might be attributable to the tax increase reduced the estimated revenue gain from the tax increase by a negligible 0.4%  (In other words, there was still a very substantial net revenue gain.)”

On the other hand, according to Robert Frank in the Wall Street Journal, the increased tax rates had “no measureable impact”; in fact, the only group of wealthy who made any movement were those not working and living off of investments.  In Illinois, interestingly, a group that does not participate in state income taxes to begin with.  (

What might be real drivers of an economy like one in Illinois, where we all labor under an archaic income tax system developed in the last mid-century?

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, mainstream economists agree on the following factors in economic growth for a state:

·      A high quality education system that produces a well-educated workforce
·      An up-to-date infrastructure, including roads, bridges and public transportation systems
·      Reliable police services and fire protection
·      Services that support workers, like health care and job training
·      Good quality of life (good schools, safe communities, access to cultural and recreational amenities).

And, according to a building number of citizens in Illinois, a graduated and fairer tax system.
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